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Free at Noon Flashback: The Cactus Blossoms flaunt a fuller folk-rock sound at World Cafe Live

Cactus Blossoms | photo by Gabriela Barbieri for WXPN

If you were looking for a folk fix this fine Friday afternoon, World Cafe Live was the place to be. Minneapolis crooners The Cactus Blossoms made a brief stop in town to serenade a packed house at today’s Free at Noon, and brought a taste of their new album Easy Way, which is out March 1, with them.

Brothers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey fill their songs with the kind of harmonies only siblings have — whether it’s genetic or just the product of a lifetime of practice, it’s earned them countless Everly Brothers comparisons, awestruck audiences, and even an appearance in the Twin Peaks reboot. Supported today by a dynamic backing band, The Cactus Blossoms brought plenty of the lilting country songs they’ve become known for, but also showed a fuller, more rock-influenced side to their sound which it seems like we’ll be hearing more of on the new album, which according to Rolling Stone is a reflection on “love, joy and the need to connect.” Continue reading →

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Free at Noon Flashback: Amy Helm brings love and rock to World Cafe Live

Amy Helm | photo by Gabriela Barbieri for WXPN

Singer-songwriter Amy Helm is on tour with her new album, This Too Shall Light, an vibrant tribute to love, family, and the power of the human soul. Helm is the daughter of beloved drummer Levon Helm from The Band, and the legacy of father-daughter songwriting comes through in this album. With Helm on voice and mandolin, Mark Marshall on guitar, Adam Minkoff on piano and bass, and Tony Mason on drums, the quartet embraced their space at the Free at Noon concert and maximized their folk rock sound. Continue reading →

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Free at Noon Flashback: Haerts trades flashy synths for stripped-back simplicity

Haerts | photo by Gabriela Barbieri for WXPN

New York-via-Germany indie pop duo Haerts made their way down to Philadelphia today with none of their trademark synths in tow. Instead, they treated today’s Free at Noon crowd to what they described as a “very stripped down” performance, trading flashier sounds for simple acoustic guitar and piano. It was both a look back at the band’s roots as a singer-songwriter duo, and a heartfelt exploration at the emotions at the center of their new album. Continue reading →

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Free At Noon Flashback: Ali Awan and his band raise the roof at World Cafe Live

Ali Awan | photo by Meghan Weale for WXPN | behance.net/meghanweale

“Everybody at the station is jumping up and down for this week’s guest,” said XPN’s Helen Leicht at the top of this week’s Free at Noon concert, and she’s not kidding. Ali Awan is the rare artist that practically the entire staff is rallying around, from Mike Vasilikos giving him his radio debut last March, to Kristen Kurtis naming his album one of her most anticipated of 2019, to his recent ripper of a Key Studio Session.

Awan started the show the same way he started that session: with “Magic Wheel,” a dreamy midtempo tune built around lead guitar harmonies between Awan and guitarist Kirby Sybert. From here, the set launched immediately into the roof-raising “Poison and Potion,” followed by the vibey “Citadel Blues,” Awan’s debut single that came out just over a year ago. Continue reading →

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Free at Noon Flashback: Guster gears up for a busy 2019 at World Cafe Live

Guster | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Guster is about to be extremely busy: in just one short week, the band will release Look Alive, their first album in four years, and head out on an extensive world tour. But this week they’ve been reveling in the calm before the storm, rehearsing new songs, and prepping their live set for a real-life audience. Their official release week festivities began just this afternoon, right here in Philly, as they joined us for a sold-out Free at Noon performance.

Many in the extremely packed audience seemed to be enthusiastic Guster fans (some might have been here for the band’s last Free at Noon, almost exactly four years ago), and their anticipation was palpable as they rushed to fill the room; only increasing with every second of the additional ten-minute wait for the band to come onstage. We soon found out why the band was running late — they have a lot of fancy technological aspects to their performance, some of which it seems like they’re still getting used to. Continue reading →

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Free at Noon Flashback: Kensington Clearwater Revival celebrates 50 years of CCR at World Cafe Live

Kensington Clearwater Revival | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

WXPN’s final Free at Noon concert of 2018 was not just a rip-roaring rock and roll party, it was a celebration of Credence Clearwater Revival’s self-titled debut record, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Taking the World Cafe Live stage at the stroke of noon was Kensington Clearwater Revival, a homegrown tribute featuring Philly faves Jeff White and Ali Awan on dueling lead guitar, with Owen Stewart of Kiska and Ruby the Hatchet on lead vocals, plus two of his Ruby bandmates: Jillian Taylor on backup vocals and Sean Hur on organ. The band is rounded out by R.J. Gilligan on bass, Tony Zamboni on drums, with a guest appearance from Max Cudworth on the sax.

Kicking off with “Fortunate Son,” the band ripped across an eight song set of Credence classics and deep cuts, propelled by Stewart’s gruff and gravely delivery, which was about as good an approximation of John Fogerty as you’ll hear in the 215. White and Awan traded licks with finesse, and Taylor’s guest spot on “Proud Mary” was roof-raising. Continue reading →

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Free at Noon Flashback: Phosphorescent lives up to their name at World Cafe Live

Phosphorescent at WXPN’s Free At Noon Concert | photo by Taylor Johnson for WXPN

Merriam Webster dictionary defines phosphorescence as “luminescence that is caused by the absorption of radiations (such as light or electrons) and continues for a noticeable time after these radiations have stopped.” Minus the more science-y parts of that, one can only assume that Phosphorescent is going for a similar vibe with their music. Though the hazy glow that envelops the band during their live set is technically thanks to the lighting crew, their soft and airy songs are lush and drawn-out, winding on and on in a way that breathes life into their mouthful of a name. Continue reading →

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Free at Noon Flashback: Marissa Nadler turns World Cafe Live into the Roadhouse

Marissa Nadler | photo by Taylor Johnson for WXPN

I don’t know if Boston singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler was a fan of Twin Peaks: The Return (or the original series, for that matter) but I could 100% imagine her downbeat, distressed electric folk resonating from the stage of the roadhouse at the end of an episode.

Nadler performed at World Cafe Live today for WXPN’s Free at Noon concert series, on the heels of a Boot & Saddle gig earlier this week; her latest record, For My Crimes, was released in September on Sacred Bones Records. Her setlist pulled predominately from that record, with the exception of the spectral closer “Drive,” which came from Nadler’s 2014 album “July,” and the tender beauty of “Leave The Light On,” which came from the demos compilation Before July.   Continue reading →

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Free At Noon Flashback: Shy Boys introduce Kansas City indie pop to World Cafe Live

Shy Boys performing at World Cafe Live for WXPN’s Free At Noon Concert | photo by Rich McKie

Shy Boys may be from out of town — Kansas City, Missouri, to be exact — but their two-day stint in Philadelphia has had them feeling right at home. After the band’s show at PhilaMOCA last night, they were gearing up for today’s Free at Noon performance with a hearty breakfast when frontman Collin Rausch noticed that the restaurant was playing XPN over the speakers. It got even more surreal for the band when they heard a promo for own show today, making them feel like they weren’t too far away from home after all. Continue reading →